BA LLB 3rd semester public administration notes
Q. 3. “Max Weber’s theory of Bureaucracy is very systematized” explains it.
Ans. The systematic study of bureaucracy began with the German sociologist, Max Weber. In terms of influence, it has exerted and the argument it has stimulated Weber’s writing on bureaucracy is more
important than the sum total of the contributions of countless scholars. Halevy writes, “Weber’s theory, like Marx’s, has attracted widespread and continued criticism, and his conception of bureaucracy has been one of its prime targets. But this is really an indication of the theory’s impact. Unimportant theories are usually disregarded and quickly forgotten, only theories that have served as a landmark in the development of the discipline have been singled out for repeated onslaughts. And the more they have been attacked, the more resilient they have become Weber’s theory of bureaucracy is a clear case in point. Innumerable contemporary authors on bureaucracy start out with a critique of his theory. Yet these same authors use it as a point of departure for one exposition of their own view if only to show how theirs differ from his.” The comment is no doubt lengthy, nevertheless, it correctly describes the place and importance of Weber’s theory of bureaucracy in the literature.
Weber’s most extensive and systematic discussion of administration occurs within his sociology of domination in Economy and Society.’ Parliament and Government in the Newly Organised Germany’ is another vital source of knowing his views on this subject.
Power, Authority and Bureaucracy
Weber’s conception of bureaucracy can be found in his ideas on power, domination, and authority. Weber defined power as “the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position
to carry out his own will despite resistance.” “Imperative control” or domination is power in a hierarchy; it is the probability that with a given specific content it will be obeyed by a given group of persons. The exercise of authority requires that a person successfully issues orders to a group of subordinates who respond because of their belief in the legitimacy of the order. Thus legitimacy turns power and domination into authority.
Weber classified authority on the basis of its claim to legitimacy because that would depend largely on the type of obedience, the kind of administrative staff suitable to it, and the ways of exercising authority.
The classification is threefold :
Traditional authority: Legitimated by time by its existence in the past. It rests on an established belief in the sanctity of memorial traditions and the legitimacy of the status of those exercising authority under them.
Charismatic authority: Legitimated by outstanding personal leadership characteristics of the bearer. It rests on devotion to the specific and exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person and of the normative order ordinated by him.
Legal rational authority: Legitimated by being in accordance with formally correct rules and by the right of those in authority to issue commands under such rules. It rests on a belief in the legality of
This classification of authority provided Weber with the basis for classifying organisations. As he said, “The foundation of all authority and hence of all compliance with orders, is a belief in prestige, which operates to the advantage of the ruler or rulers. With different forms of belief in the legitimacy of authority were associated different authority structures and hence organisational forms.” Traditional authority forms the basis of traditionalist organisations. Charismatic authority forms the basis of charismatic organisations. Charismatic authority forms the basis of charismatic movements. Legal rational authority forms the basis of modern organisations with which is associated increasingly a bureaucratic administrative staff.
Weber’s Ideal Type
Weber used the word bureaucracy to designate a quite specific kind of administrative organisation. He insisted that modern bureaucratic organisation as a form of apparatus was sui generis. He never defined
bureaucracy in an explicit way in which he defined ‘class’ or ‘status group’. Martin Albrow observes, however, that Weber’s concept of is meant an administrative body of appointed officials.” He did not
include elected officials or those selected by lot, in bureaucracy. The essential feature of the bureaucratic official was that he was an appointee. Weber thought of bureaucracy as a collective term for a body of officials, a definite and distinct group whose influence can be seen in all kinds of large organisations-state, church, political parties, trade unions, business enterprises, universities, etc. It also comprised distinct forms of action.
The legal-rational authority depends on the following related beliefs.
(1) A legal code can be established which can claim obedience from members of the organisation.
(2) Administration looks after the interests of the organisation within the limits of law which is a system
of abstract rules and is applied to particular cases.
(3) The man exercising authority also obey this impersonal order.
(4) That only qua member does the member obey the law.
(5) Finally, obedience is not to the person who holds authority but to the impersonal order which
has appointed him to that position.
Ramesh K. Arora has excellently summed up the characteristics and principles of the administrative staff under legal-rational authority as described by Weber. These are :
(1) Legal authority in purest form utilizes bureaucratic administrative staff.
(2) The characteristics of bureaucrats are: (sec. also a previous chapter on theories of organisation) :
(i) They are subject to authority only in official capacities.
(ii) They are organised in a hierarchy of office.
(iii) That each office has defined competence.
(iv) Offices are filled by free selection.
(v) Officials are appointed on the basis of their technical competence.
(vi) They are paid in money; have fixed, graded salary scaled and pensions.
(vii) Their office is their primary occupation.
(viii) Bureaucracy offer a career in which promotion is by seniority and/or achievement.
(ix) The official is separated from the means of administration.
(x) The officials are subject to discipline in the conduct of office.
(3) Appointment is an important feature because election impedes hierarchical discipline.
(4) Specialised knowledge is indispensable, even though at the top of bureaucracy there is a non-bureaucrat.
(5) Administrative bureaucratic staff in its purest form is of monocratic type.
(i) It is the most rational means of carrying out imperative control over human beings.
(ii) Its primary source of superiority is technical knowledge.
(iii) It can escape existing bureaucratic authority only by creating another bureaucratic authority.
(iv) Capitalism has been a major spur towards bureaucratization.
(v) Development of bureaucracy leads to social levelling, and social levelling favours bureaucracy.
These characteristics of ideal type bureaucracy had been drawn by Weber from Russian administrative theory and European administrative history. It must be remembered, however, that this is an ideal type (not an ideal) that is never found in ‘pure’ or ‘unmixed’ form in reality. Administrative systems of the industrialised Western countries largely approximate this ideal type. When Weber writes of certain actual administrative organisations, he calls them bureaucracies, even though none of them possesses all and only these characteristics.
Weber disagrees with Marx and Lenin on the point that bureaucracy being tied to capitalism, will disappear when the latter is overthrown by a socialist revolution. He insists that bureaucracy is an independent entity and it will survive whether the society is capitalist or socialist. This is for two reasons. First, since the rise of bureaucracy is conditioned by those factors which have created the modern society i.e., capitalism, centralisation tendencies and mass democracy, it is a phenomenon that cannot be eliminated.
Weber regards bureaucracy as an indispensable component of a society built on a complex distribution of labour, centralised administration and money economy. It simply cannot be done away with. Weber says, “If bureaucratic administration is, other things being equal, always the most rational type from a technical point of view, the needs of mass administration make it today completely indispensable. The choice is only that between bureaucracy and dilettantism in the field of administration.” Second,
bureaucracy has become a permanent social force. Its superiority is derived from its character of being an impersonal apparatus, technically competent, precise and disciplined.
Weber sees bureaucratic tendencies not only in the modern states and private capitalist enterprises but also in the modern army, the church and the universities. He says that the latter has gradually lost its archaic characteristics. Standing armies, material wealth and the consequent increasing role of the public sector, modern means of communication, political factors like universal suffrage, the rise of mass political parties are the factors that work towards bureaucratization.
The indispensability of developed bureaucracy is regarded by Weber as the pivotal political fact of the modern age. The individual bureaucrat is a powerless cog “in a ceaselessly moving mechanism which
prescribes to him an essentially fixed route of march.” Whoever gains power is unable to govern without this organisation.
Not only is bureaucracy indispensable but its influence is inescapable. Martin Krygier observes that “as an administrative organisation found in every kind of enterprise its influence is more pervasive than that of other carriers of the rationality of the modern world, and as the most advanced form of administrative organisation, it is stronger, more escape-proof, than any previous form.”
Bureaucracy and Capitalism
As stated earlier, Weber does not tie bureaucracy to the capitalist order of production. He no doubt explains the emergence of bureaucracy by reference to the nature of the capitalist system (wherever capitalism flourishes, bureaucracy emerges) but capitalism is only one of the several casual factors. Bureaucracy can also emerge, or continue to exist, under other conditions e.g. socialism. A socialist revolution cannot result in a dictatorship of the proletariat. In modern mass society, it can only result in a consolidated dictatorship of the bureaucrats. In a society based on a socialist economy, bureaucracy becomes a monolithic, immovable structure.
Capitalism in its present form of development requires bureaucracy, on the other hand, “capitalism is the most rational economic basis for bureaucratic administration and enables it to develop in the most rational form.” Even if capitalism were abolished, the bureaucracy would nevertheless remain. In capitalist society private and public bureaucracies check each other to a degree. If private capitalism were eliminated these bureaucracies would be merged into a single hierarchy. State bureaucracy then would rule alone and Weber disliked such a development.
Consequences of Bureaucratization
Weber was very uneasy about the social and political consequences of the contemporary, irresistible spread of bureaucracy. martin Krygier mentions two points for Weber’s uneasiness. First is the bureaucratization of the whole society in the sense of the permeation of bureaucratic values, ways of thought and of behaviour throughout a population. The second point of Weber’s uneasiness was that those manning bureaucratic organisations might come to be the actual rules of a state. Bengt Abrahamsson observes that Weber could see the possibility of a bureaucratic machine revolting against its masters. The reason is that bureaucracies possess superior technical and practical knowledge as well as the ability to dominate the gathering and dissemination of vital information. “Bureaucratic administration means fundamentally domination through knowledge.”
Weber goes on to add that if bureaucracy chooses to act politically, its masters could easily become victims. The reason for this is that political rulers lack the necessary expertise to effectively control the reigns of bureaucracy. “It is easier for the career official to pursue his opinion vis-a-vis the chief of state than it is for the officials’ nominal superior i.e., the cabinet minister.” At another place Weber cautions
that bureaucrats had enormous power resources at their disposal which might enable them to rule unless they were kept under political control.
Halevy mentions two more but related consequences about which Weber was worried. He saw the impact of bureaucracy on the individual within it, the bureaucrat, as the crippling of his personality. Bureaucracy creates a person who is a little cog in a big machine, and who tries to become a bigger cog. Capitalism and bureaucracy both create a technical expert who replaces the earlier cultured man and who is convinced of his own superiority. Weber says, “specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart, this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before reached.” The critics of bureaucracy call it a dehumanised person. Another consequence of bureaucracy in Weber’s view, mentioned by Halevy, is over-organisation which is the very opposite of liberty.
Weber on Control over Bureaucracy
Weber never thought of bureaucracy as an independent social unit. He tended to view it as a machine. Hence the question of control over bureaucracy becomes easy. It subordinates itself to anyone who is able to master the economic and legal techniques necessary for its proper functioning. Since Weber regarded bureaucracy as an apparatus, it can work for anyone who knows how to gain control over it. He considered it essential that non-bureaucratic leaders are selected who might control the controllers. The other checks which Weber considers necessary for reducing the influence of bureaucracy to its rightful proportions are openness, elimination of ‘official secrets’ and the introduction of effective parliamentary control.
Martin Albrow groups the mechanisms of control over bureaucracy into five. These are :
Collegiality. At each stage of the official hierarchy, more than one person should, as a matter of right, be involved in taking decisions e.g., British Cabinet.
Separation of Powers. Dividing responsibility for the same function between two or more bodies. This system is inherently unstable.
Amateur Administration. This system could not measure up to the demands for expertise which modern society made. Moreover, where amateurs were assisted by professionals it was always the latter who
made the real decisions.
Direct Democracy. It is practicable only in local administration, and the need for expertise was a decisive counterweight.
Representation. i.e. through elected representative assemblies or parliaments. It was through this medium that Weber saw the greatest possibility of a check on bureaucracy.
Weber on Bureaucracy vis-a-vis Democracy
Weber was ambivalent about the implications of bureaucracy for democracy. As stated earlier, bureaucracy and democracy developed side by side. Democracy promoted the development of bureaucracy by its fight against traditional notables. He says that, on the other hand, democracy creates blockages to bureaucratic organisations by means of limiting the term of office by-election and dispensing with the qualifications of expertness. Thus democracy inevitably comes into conflict with bureaucracy.
Weber stressed that in a democracy, bureaucracy should be subordinated to its political master i.e. elected politician. But he was deeply concerned that those who staffed the bureaucracy would themselves become the masters of the state. In relation to the elected political master the bureaucrat is an expert and in the course of his official duties, he acquires a great deal of concrete information. This information which is not always available to the political superior places the bureaucrat at a great advantage and is the source of his power. Therefore, Weber opines that the very same superiority that has made bureaucracy so essential to modern society also poses a threat to modern democracy.
A further threat to democracy lies in the code of bureaucracy secrecy. Most important spheres of bureaucratic action are withdrawn from public scrutiny. The citizens may complain to the elected
representative about bureaucratic action, but the secrecy of the action makes redress of the grievance difficult. Weber says that how much power bureaucracy exerts on its political superior, depends largely on the bureaucracy itself. “If it chooses to over-rule its master, there is nothing to prevent it from doing so. Against the bureaucracy, the ruler remains, powerless.”